Windows 10 no longer has built-in help for File Explorer like it did in Windows 7. Microsoft makes you search the web for information, so here’s what you need to know about using the Windows 10 file manager.
File Explorer Interface Basics
Although it was renamed «File Explorer» in Windows 10, this application is basically the same as «Windows Explorer» in Windows 7. It has some new features, including a ribbon interface and built-in Microsoft OneDrive for syncing files to the cloud.
The Quick Access area in the sidebar replaces Favorites in Windows 10. You can drag folders to the Quick Access area to «pin» them for quick access in the future. Windows 10 will automatically add recently used folders to this area. You can customize Quick Access from the Preferences window. To remove an individual folder from Quick Access, right-click it and select Unpin from Quick Access.
The This PC section replaces My Computer in Windows 7. It contains shortcuts to user data folders on your PC as well as other drives such as USB sticks and DVD drives.
How to use the ribbon
The ribbon in File Explorer works just like the ribbon in Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel. There are several ways to use it.
If you need more space in your file browsers, you can leave the ribbon minimized by default. You can still click on any of the tabs at the top, like Home, Share, or View, to view the commands and click the button. The ribbon will only appear temporarily.
If you prefer to see the ribbon at all times, you can expand it. To do this, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the File Explorer window, or press Ctrl + F1.
The Home toolbar offers basic options for working with files, including Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, New Folder, and Properties.
The Share tab offers options for emailing, archiving and printing files, as well as burning them to disk and sharing them on the local network.
The View tab contains options for controlling how files are displayed in File Explorer and how they are sorted. You can turn on the preview or details panel to see more information about the selected file, choose whether you want large file icons or a dense list of files, and sort the files by whatever criteria you like. You can also show or hide filename extensions or hidden files from here. Just check the Hidden Items box to show or hide hidden files without opening the Folder Options window.
The Manage tab sometimes appears on the ribbon with context-sensitive commands. For example, if you select multiple images, you will see an Image Tools tab with rotation options to select images and set them as your desktop background.
How to pin frequently used commands
The Quick Access Toolbar appears in the upper left corner of the Explorer window, in the title bar. It provides easy access to the commands you use frequently. To add a command to the Quick Access Toolbar, right-click it on the ribbon and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar.
If you need more room for commands, you can right-click anywhere on the ribbon or tab bar above it and select «Show Quick Access Toolbar Below Ribbon» to turn it into a more standard toolbar.
How to change explorer settings
To change File Explorer preferences, click the View tab on the ribbon and click the Options icon.
The familiar Folder Options dialog box, also found in Windows 7, will open. It has several new options — for example, you can control whether File Explorer opens the Quick Access toolbar or This PC views, or automatically displays recently and frequently used folders in the Quick Access view.
Useful keyboard shortcuts
File Explorer is packed with useful keyboard shortcuts to help you complete tasks faster. Here is a short list of some:
Windows+E — open the explorer window. This works anywhere in Windows 10.
Ctrl + N — open a new explorer window. This only works in the file explorer itself.
Ctrl+W — close the current explorer window.
Ctrl + mouse wheel up or down — change the size of files and folder icons (zoom in or out).
Ctrl+Shift+N — create a new folder
backspace or Alt + left arrow — view the previous folder (go back.)
Alt + right arrow — view next folder (forward)
Alt + Up Arrow — view the folder in which the current folder is located.
ctrl+f , Ctrl+E or F3 — focus the search field so you can quickly start typing searches.
Ctrl+L , Alt+D or F4 — focus the address bar (location) so you can quickly start typing the address of a folder.
F11 — expand the explorer window. Press F11 again to shrink the window. This works in web browsers too.
You can find a complete list of keyboard shortcuts in Windows 10 on the Microsoft website.
How to use OneDrive
OneDrive is built into Windows 10 File Explorer. It syncs files online using the Microsoft account you sign into Windows 10 with. It works similarly to Dropbox, Google Drive and Apple iCloud Drive.
To get started, click OneDrive in File Explorer’s sidebar. You will be prompted to sign in to OneDrive if needed. If not, you can just put the files in OneDrive. They will be uploaded to Microsoft servers. You can access them in your OneDrive folder on other computers you’re signed in with with the same Microsoft account, through the OneDrive apps on your phone, and on the OneDrive website.
The Status field in the OneDrive window shows you the status of each file. A blue cloud icon indicates that the file is stored online in OneDrive but will be automatically downloaded when it is opened. A green checkmark indicates that the file is stored on both OneDrive and your current PC.
You can manage your OneDrive settings from the OneDrive notification area icon (on the taskbar). Click the cloud-shaped OneDrive icon in the notification area at the bottom right of your screen — if you can’t see it, you probably need to click the little up arrow to the left of the icons to find it. Click «More» and click «Settings» to find the various OneDrive settings where you can control which folders are synced, how much upload and download bandwidth OneDrive uses, among other options.
OneDrive can automatically «protect» files in important folders like Desktop, Pictures, and Documents by keeping them in sync. To set this up, go to the AutoSave tab in your OneDrive settings and click the Refresh Folders button under Protecting Important Folders.
If you don’t like seeing OneDrive, you can disable it and remove the icon from File Explorer.
How to access network drives
Folders, printers, and media servers used on the local network appear in the Network view. You may have to scroll down to the bottom of the File Explorer sidebar to find and click it.
Windows 10 no longer includes the HomeGroup feature, so you can’t use it to easily share files and folders between computers. You can use OneDrive or use legacy online file and folder sharing options.
If you need to map a network drive for ease of accessibility, you can do so in the This PC view. First, click «This PC» in the sidebar. The Computer tab appears on the ribbon. Click it and select «Map Network Drive» and use the instructions your IT department provides to connect.
The mapped drive will appear under Network Location in the This PC view.
How to back up and restore your files
Windows 10 contains File History, a file backup and restore tool. It’s not just for creating and restoring huge backups — File History can automatically back up different versions of your files, and you can use File Explorer to easily restore those previous versions. First, you must adjust your file history in Settings > Update & Security > Backup. Turn on «Automatically back up my files».
Once configured, you can select a file or folder, click Home on the ribbon, and click the History button to view and restore older versions of that file or folder.
Windows 10 File Explorer contains many other useful features. You can tag any file, use a dark theme, or re-enable the «libraries» feature. Microsoft is working on a tabbed interface for File Explorer, but you can get File Explorer Tabs today.